Thu, Apr 26, 2012 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan still needs plenty of reform

By Lee Teng-hui 李登輝

A shadow has been cast over Taiwan of late. In “one country, two areas (一國兩區),” President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has proposed a formula for our relationship with China tantamount to our relinquishing our national sovereignty. In insisting on easing a ban on importing meat containing ractopamine, he is disregarding public opinion and endangering public health. At the same time, the government has instigated price hikes in gasoline, electricity and even in health insurance premiums, which have significantly increased the cost of living. This government clearly cares little for the public.

Prior to the January presidential election, Ma promised things would get better if people voted for him. They haven’t gotten better, and it seems that, not having to face the electorate again, he feels free to oblige the public to grin and bear the situation he has engineered. The electorate might not agree with what he is doing, but voters can do little about it, which shows that flaws remain in Taiwan’s democratic system.

Perhaps the time has come to reform the system. When I say reform, I refer to one that will provide guarantees of life, subsistence and rights.

Over its history, Taiwan has been subjected to the rule of many different powers, something I have called the “tragedy of being born Taiwanese.” However, with the development of the democracy movement and with popular support, I, as president, was able to push for reform and, through a peaceful revolution, transfer political power to the hands of the public, making Taiwanese the true masters of their country. More work is still needed in judicial, educational and religious reforms, so that people can truely have a sense of being in control of their own fate. Reform brings a better quality of life; it doesn’t require that people have to endure tough times.

In the past, Taiwanese took to the streets to demand the right to vote and freedom of speech, not thinking of the risk to person and property. Now, the president is decided in direct elections and the reins of government have changed hands on two occasions. However, the momentum for reform seems to have been lost and politics has become more about furthering one’s own status and interests. The focus is no longer on improving the lives of ordinary people.

If Taiwan is to continue to progress, we need to rely on the public and on social movements: We can no longer look to the political parties. Indeed, there is no room for any party that works counter to the will of the public.

Taiwan still has many problems — political, economic and social — related to the constitutional government system, the effectiveness of the judiciary, social justice, the integrity of the press, environmental protection, land justice, public health, human rights and the care of the weak and the vulnerable.

For example, the stipulations in the opening paragraphs of the Additional Articles of the Republic of China Constitution that presuppose the goal of unification are out of touch with how the majority of Taiwanese think today; the allocation of legislative seats to members of the majority and minority political parties does not reflect the number of votes these parties actually obtain in the legislative elections, counter to the principle that all votes should have equal weighting; constitutional reform is entirely in the hands of the legislature; the public has to wade through many layers of red tape before it can initiate a referendum — a serious restriction of their ability to express their opinions; and the gap between the rich and poor continues to widen in an affront to fairness and justice. We need to undertake comprehensive reforms to set these issues right.

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